Torino, January 21st, 2021 – First piece of hardware this season. Following Sunday’s disappointment against Inter, last night’s convincing win against Napoli for the Supercoppa Italiana could not have been a better response from Juventus. In addition to winning a trophy, this fantastic team effort provides a massive boost in morale for the squad, with many decisive matches still to come. I don’t think this matchup could have come at a better time in Juventus’ season. While it seems Juve have learned their lesson following the Inter match, it was evident that Pirlo had done some reflection of his own. While the loss on the weekend can partially be blamed on naive player choices and poor tactical preparation, Pirlo ensured that he wouldn’t make the same mistakes against Napoli.
Mister Pirlo’s first trophy
Not many coaches have the opportunity to begin their managerial career with a team such as Juventus, but thus far, Pirlo has taken his appointment as head coach in stride. Although the team’s performances haven’t been all too convincing, this season Pirlo has managed to remain afloat in the most competitive title race the Serie A has seen in years, has helped the Bianconeri through to the next stage of both the Champions league and Coppa Italia, and as of last night, secured Juve’s first trophy of the season. Not too shabby for only a half a season in charge.
While he is still getting used to the role, there is no doubt in my mind that Pirlo will continuously improve with experience during his time as a head coach. Throughout his playing career, Andrea Pirlo has proved time over and again that he has a very high level of football knowledge. The difference now, however, is the fact that he cannot dictate the play of his team while on the pitch – he may only provide direction from the sidelines.
Following the match, Mister Pirlo spoke about this difference: “It's a great joy – lifting your first trophy as a coach is something different, even more than as a player, because you are in charge of such an important team, of a historic club – so it feels even better.”
Say it with me: Szczęsny is world class
Our Polish unsung hero. Against Napoli, Wojciech Szczęsny made a statement – one suggesting that he should be included in the conversation of Europe’s top keepers. If Tek wasn’t playing today, I strongly believe that the match could have easily gone into extra time. What seemed like two sure goals for Napoli, Szczęsny responded by pulling two saves out of the top drawer to single handedly save Juventus’ game. My man of the match.
Szczęsny is well aware of the weight that now falls on his shoulders being the keeper to follow the act of the legendary Gianluigi Buffon. In the Netflix series, First Team: Juventus, Wojciech explains that he will “never be the next Gigi Buffon, but will be the best Wojciech Szczesny he can possibly be.” And my goodness, is he ever.
Cuadrado >> COVID-19
Given the luck of Juventus this season in regard to injuries and illnesses, I was definitely not expecting to see Juan Cuadrado travel with the team for yesterday’s match. Surprisingly enough, following a positive COVID-19 test just two weeks ago, Juan played the full ninety minutes on his return.
Juan’s performance today proved (yet again) that he is fundamental to this Juventus side, giving that all-important balance which was evidently missing against Internationale. During the match, Cuadrado took full advantage of any opportunity to get himself up the pitch – through the combination of his ability to get himself into dangerous positions, with his agility and lightning quick feet, Juan’s presence was always sure to ask questions of Napoli’s back line.
However, the moment that stood out to me the most came in the final minute of play, in which Cuadrado was the driving force of a counter attack following a Napoli corner kick. After helping to successfully defend the corner, the Columbian essentially ran the entire length of the pitch, picked up the ball at the half-way line, to then set up Alvaro Morata to seal the deal just before the final whistle. While I would not pick Juan as my man of the match over Tek, he must be praised for his strong showing – especially given the circumstances.
BAM – the midfield that works
I’m going to trademark that. Following this performance, I feel fairly confident that we will be seeing much more of the midfield trio consisting of Bentancur, Arthur and McKennie (BAM). BAM was able to suppress an in-form Napoli’s midfield, and take full control of the middle of the pitch for the majority of the game – and what a breath of fresh air it was.
Arthur’s ability to evade the press and retain the ball is something that should not be overlooked. He brings a calming presence in what has been (at times) a shocking midfield – in some instances, his composure even seems to rub off on his midfield partners. With the Brazilian in the lineup to step into that holding midfield role, this allows for the Uruguayan Rodrigo Bentancur to roam and gain some freedom in order to seek those key passes Juve so desperately needs. In last night’s match, I truly appreciated the efficiency of those two – the South-American connection is starting to click.
But Weston McKennie, mamma mia – what a baller. Fighting hard for every loose ball, driving his team forward, acting as the engine of our midfield – Weston is sure to be a very important figure in this side for years to come.